IAIA - Institute of American Indian Arts

Da-ka-xeen Mehner

Alumnus Finds Balance between the Extremes


Da-ka-xeen Mehner (Tlingit/N’ishga), AA ’92. Photo © Da-ka-xeen Mehner.

Da-ka-xeen Mehner (Tlingit/N’ishga) came to IAIA thinking he was a painter, but left with a concentration in photography and sculpture, earning his associate’s degree in 1992. He went on to earn his BFA instudio arts from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and his MFA in Native arts from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Mehner now works at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, as an assistant professor of Native arts and the director of the UA’s Native Arts Center. Newswinds caught up with Mehner to see where he’s been, what he’s doing now and where he’s headed.

Looking back, what made you want to come to IAIA?

I was looking for a setting in which I could explore Native issues within my artwork. Also, I was looking for a different environment from where I grew up. The desert seemed to be as different as possible from Alaska. I was cold there my first year, though. I thought the desert didn’t have a winter and didn’t even bring a coat down with me.

How has IAIA influenced you and your artistic path?

IAIA made a long lasting impact on my artistic path, as did being exposed to the variety of artwork being produced by Native students from around the country. I feel like I am still working on some of the same themes that I started investigating there. I developed lifelong friendships at IAIA, and met my wife Maya in New Mexico; Santa Fe is her home town.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time here?

The Thlinget Artist Da-ka-xeen Mehner. Photo © Da-ka-xeen Mehner.


There are so many fond memories from that time, but I think having coffee at the Aztec Cafe with friends and talking about art and life are some of the best memories I have. Meeting the Dalai Lama when he came though Santa Fe was a monumental moment for me while I was at IAIA, as well.

Dry Ice travels to the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts this August (2010); can you tell us a little about your work in that show?

I find the Alaskan landscape to be a land of extremes, and one that is inextricably tied to oil. My diptych in Dry Ice represents the two seasons. In the winter scene, the central image is from my time working in Prudhoe Bay, a stark oil field at the very top of Alaska. Although I never directly worked for an oil company, I worked on support structures for the oil industry.

On the summer side of my diptych, the central image is the right-of-way for the pipeline, several miles from my home in Fairbanks. Beneath what looks to be a country road is a 48” pipe that pumps 592,597 barrels of oil per day down to Valdez. I find the right-of-way to be a nice walking area and the berries my family gathers for the year come from the pipeline road.

What work are you most proud of thus far in your career?

Performing the Mask for My Uncle. Photo © Da-ka-xeen Mehner.